cover image Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris

Magnificent Rebel: Nancy Cunard in Jazz Age Paris

Anne de Courcy. St. Martin’s, $29.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-27256-0

Nancy Cunard (1896–1965), the glamorous and unconventional great-granddaughter of the founder of the Cunard shipping line, takes center stage in this luminous biography from de Courcy (Chanel’s Riviera). A legendary beauty regularly photographed by Man Ray, Cunard rejected the cultural mores of the British aristocracy and refused common definitions of fidelity in favor of a “buccaneering attitude to sex.” After moving to Paris in 1920 and falling under the influence of modernism and surrealism, Cunard had love affairs with authors Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, Michael Arlen, and Louis Aragon, and jazz pianist Henry Crowder. Founder of the Hours Press, Cunard was a muse as well as a publisher, and made Black culture the “central cause of her life.” She spent three years assembling Negro, a 1933 anthology of works “by and about black people” and raised funds to support the Scottsboro Boys, who were wrongly accused of rape in the U.S. Her attraction to African culture could also be seen—and heard—in her signature accessory, ivory bracelets that ringed both arms from wrist to bicep. Physical and mental health woes exacerbated by “a lifetime of alcohol, smoking, and barely eating” made Cunard’s last days “appallingly sad,” but de Courcy does justice to her subject’s glory years. It’s a seductive portrait of life lived to the fullest. (Apr.)